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chef interview: Manny Augello

chef interview: Manny Augello

chef Manny Augello

Bread and Circus Provisions

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Words & Interview by Katie Culbert

Photography by Denny Culbert

Manny Augello wants to cook for you. When we called Augello to set up this interview, he told us to come hungry. When we arrived after hours on a Sunday evening at his newly opened Bread & Circus Provisions, we heard Rising Appalachia playing, pots clamoring, and the chatter of what sounded like a little kitten. It turned out to be Amelie, Augello’s four year old, sitting happily on the stainless steel countertop, watching her dad at work. Fennel fronds, tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, anchovies…. all cooking down into a thick gravy. You can tell that cooking for others and engaging with people is where he shines. 

Augello is only 27, but his experience in the food game rivals any seasoned veteran. His cooking career began at the tender age of seven when his daily after school job was stuffing chickens for his dad’s rotisserie in Sicily. Since his move to Lafayette in 2005, he has been on the forefront of changing the way we eat. He cofounded this town’s first underground supper club, Blue Dinner Underground. That’s actually where we first met Augello. We couldn't believe he was only 24 at the time. Thanks to him, we experienced food in a whole new way. And when he took over as head chef at Jolie’s Bistro, he quietly and deliberately converted every ingredient on the already established menu to locally sourced products. Those little changes gave the restaurant a second life. Augello left Jolie’s a little over a year ago to embark on a new venture, Bread & Circus Provisions. The first phase began at the farmer’s market with a line of condiments and cured meats. It’s so perfectly nostalgic. Now Augello is embarking on the second phase. He is doing what he loves and does best. Cooking for you.

Whenever I started learning about Cajun culture, I realized how a lot of the hardships are the same in Sicily. In Sicily, your are not allowed to speak the Sicilian language in school because they want you to speak the proper language, the mainland’s language. It’s just like French and Cajun French. 

My parents grew up 18 miles away from each other in Sicily. My dad originally moved to the states in 1965 and my mom came over in 1972. They both lived in New Orleans for a while at the same time….didn’t meet. They lived in New York for a while at the same time….. didn’t meet. They eventually met in Miami, moved back to Sicily, and started a family. 

In Sicily, if you liked being clothed and you liked to eat, you worked…..even if you were just seven. I was stuffing chickens for the rotisserie line at my dad’s restaurant. That was my first job. And apparently that’s the crappiest job, but I didn’t know. I enjoyed it. Taking all of these guts out of this animal and stuffing it with herbs and jamming it onto the big spike that goes onto the rotisserie, I was okay with that. But apparently nobody else wanted to do it. 

In the 90’s, the situation in Sicily was really, really horrible. There were car bombings every other day and political assassinations and the mob was crazy. We escaped that situation in 1995 and moved to the states. I was about to turn nine. 

I was very curious about cooking growing up. It’s that typical family story of the grandfather and his grandfather and his grandfather. And in my family, it was on both sides. My mom’s side had cooks and farmers. Her dad had a little tavern in Sicily. And after he settled down and had kids, he turned to farming. And on my dad’s dad was a candy maker. His grandfather was a butcher. And it just kind of went on for generations back. 

I have a set of cousins who are in the medical field and they are almost like the black sheep of the family. We should be pretty proud of these guys. They save lives. But most of my family is like, what you don’t cook? 

I went back to Sicily last January. I was surprised by how much I remembered. I remembered feelings and smells and situations more than I did places. I didn’t know where anything was, but the sounds of the markets early in the morning, I remembered that. Watching the 

fishermen come back in the dark, boats full of fish, I remembered that. Going down to the shore, picking lemons. I remembered that. 

The smell of wood burning ovens is the best. That smell, that flavor. You can’t duplicate it in a regular oven. It doesn’t matter how good your sauce is or how good your dough is. 

Good charcuterie is just time and salt. And mold. That’s really important. 

My first restaurant job in the states was at my uncle’s restaurant in Mandeville. The entire thing was family run. From the floor to the kitchen to everything. It was almost like those cheesy Italian movies you see. The tarantella playing and the accordion and everything is green, red, and white. Wine barrels. It was called Sal and Kim’s. Again, very cheesy. 

One of the most heartfelt conversations I ever had with my dad was whether or not I wanted to really learn. We started with butchering and breaking stuff down. And then it was the really hardcore basics like making mayonnaise day in day out. It was basically bootcamp. It evolved to primarily what you would consider the sauté line. And that was the first time I realized I was part of an operation that ended up on somebody’s plate. 

My dad passed away in 2006 from Celiac. There was little known about it back then. Gluten intolerance was a super new concept. Back in Sicily, home remedies are used far more often than medicine. One of the hardcore home remedies for stomach bugs or hangovers is this porridge of little tiny noodles and broth. So this man has gluten intolerance, we didn’t know, he’s sick all the time, and my mom would make him this thing full of stuff he shouldn’t have. It was so awful. And once they finally figured out what it was, it just devastated him. After 40 years of professional cooking, all of a sudden he couldn’t eat anything he loved. That’s when he retired and closed everything down. That was my sophomore year of high school. And at that point I thought fuck this. I never want to cook again, ever. 

I went to Northwestern State and majored in criminal justice. But all I wanted to do was cook. Still, I stuck it out and worked at this podunk little restaurant in Natchitoches. In the process I met this really cool guy from Baton Rouge, Chef Todd Barrios, who instilled in me the reasons why it’s so important to be back in the kitchen. That’s when I realized not only is this what I’m really interested in, but I’m programmed to do this. It’s kind of a genetic code. I can’t walk away from it. 

Some chefs put people with gluten intolerance in the same classification as those vegetarians or vegans that piss you off. It’s not! It’s a huge epidemic. You are feeding people. You are putting something in their body every night. Respect it. 

Blue Dog was Steve Santillo’s first restaurant, and eleven years later he opened Jolie’s. He’s been in the game for a while. In my opinion, Steve is the epitome of a good restauranteur. He doesn’t micro manage. He hires people that he knows are capable of what he needs, and then he tells them to go do it. 

The idea for Bread & Circus was always in the works. I always wanted to do a condiment line. Something with silly, quirky names and really good, properly sourced condiments. So finally we thought lets just give it a shot. At our first market, we got wiped out. Like people even wanted to buy our crates! We were just completely blown away by it. And that’s when we got serious. 

There are a lot of times where I’ll make something depending on what I haven’t used in a really long time. Like If I haven’t come into contact with a certain kind of bean in a while, I’ll make something from it because I feel like I’m becoming a little too distant with it and I might forget how to use it. 

My mom’s side of the family, the farmer side…they drill it into you to not waste anything. You spend time, energy, earth, and resources into growing this one thing or raising an animal. Why would you waste any part of it. Like even if I you don’t use it right away. Save it. Salt it. Cure it. Put it on the side. Just don’t throw it away because eventually you are going to need it. 

It’s great to watch the evolution of recipes. I have this nerd that’s inside of me that just loves food history. The science of it is great and I really appreciate that. But why or how it came about or how did we figure it out is really more important to me. So you just look at migration or the way climates change and then a light bulb goes off and you figure out why certain dishes exist. 

The secret to a good pickle is not rushing it. The short cut you can take with pickling is heat. But if you just let it rest in the jar, that’s the best way to go. It needs this buffer to become great friends with the vinegar and the spice. 

I don’t know where Amelie picks up certain things. Maybe just from hearing me and her mom talk about the restaurant and the market and food. A couple of months ago she started asking for a splash of sparkling water in her juice. I give her cranberry juice and she asks “did you put sparkling water in it?” She’s four. 

We started the Bread & Circus restaurant because I love to serve people good quality food. We’re part market, part butcher shop, part smoke house, part bakery. And we’re part open kitchen to all of my cook friends who are just having a really shitty day and need to cook something. The kitchen is always open. Just come in. If you need to blow off some steam, do that because sometimes I wish there was a place I could go and just lay out some frustration on a stove. 

My favorite customer is the guy that says something like “oh I don’t really like corned beef”. That’s what I want to hear, because now I want him to have corned beef. The corned beef he had probably wasn’t properly sourced or properly made. I want to show him what it can be. Not in a pretentious way, just in a way of this is what the ingredients are supposed to be and this is what it’s meant to look like and taste like. It’s not something you find vacuum sealed at the store. That’s not where it starts. It starts with an animal. Or dirt. It starts with dirt.

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